Of Mars and Moon: Fighting Gravity
by Cecily Hawkins
Disclaimer: This is a not-for-profit fanfic containing characters inspired by copyrighted characters. No damage is intended. This story may contain same-sex romantic and sexual relationships. This is number 5 in the series Of Mars And Moon. Each entry takes place in one day.
Religion warning: No offense to any sect, belief, or lack thereof should be inferred. Oh, and love and kisses to Shandryl for beta-reading these things. :)
It was Friday again, the end of the pay period, the day she turned in her timecard here in this cluttered but cheerful office. Mimi was slumped in her chair, her left foot and right elbow supported by her desk in a position that made Terry's back twinge to contemplate. Her glasses were pushed up crookedly by the hand she was leaning her head on. Stacks of papers cluttered the desk in front of her, while cascades of brightly-colored balls bounced around the computer screen behind her. Her swiveling chair allowed her to make use of multiple workspaces without moving too much.
Terry made a little bow-nod to the plant as she entered. "Have to say something. Can't just show up every two weeks and shove papers in your face," she said, producing the timecard and holding it out.
Mimi pulled her foot off her desk and rocked forward in her chair to grab it, knocking her knee against the desk as she did so. Pencil holders rattled and a photograph tumbled to the floor. "Shoot," she mumbled.
Terry picked it up for her. It was a family portrait of Mimi, a balding man who looked much older than her but was probably the same age, and a teenage blonde with a soft, round face and a sparkling smile. "Cute," she commented, folding out the flap and standing the photograph holder up on the desk again.
Mimi sparkled. "My Emily." She signed off on the card and filed it in its slot. "Any problems so far?"
"What sort of problems?"
"Any suspiciously similar assignments?"
"Why do you ask?" Terry frowned. Alan's program might have been a bit strange, but it wasn't duplicated from any of the others in the class. Not from this year's class, at least, but hunting through every student's work from the past many years on less than a hunch would have been silly.
"Oh, just a couple of girls whose quizzes looked a lot alike."
Terry relaxed. In-class quiz grading was not her responsibility, and the mention of 'girls' made it likely that her paranoid suspicion about Alan was just that, paranoid.
Unless, of course, 'Alan' was actually 'Alanna.'
Your imagination is really getting carried away, she scolded herself. "I'll keep my eyes open."
"I know I can count on you," Mimi smiled.
Terry smiled, then, saluting Audrey, made her exit, heading for the bus stop.
The late January sun was warm and bright on Shaye's hair where she sat on a bench, waiting for a bus. Brightly colored fliers plastered the benches and sidewalk near by, hoping to steal the attention of those who had nothing better to do than read them. Some were advertising services. "$15 Airport Shuttle!" Some, but only a few now, listed items for sale. There were more of those near the end of a semester, when people prepared to move away and abandon the things that weighed them down here. Others advertised activity clubs and parties. Greek names that she assumed were fraternities, gaming socities, juggling clubs, one reading "Anime Otaku!" that she supposed was a foreign language event, and so on. She wondered sometimes what college parties were like. Were they really the mindless drunken screaming she had been warned about, or
were they just full of normal people trying to have a good time?
Normal people. She supposed she wasn't one. Not really.
Or maybe she was, and the other sort was only a myth. Maybe there were no people who were carefree and independent, who owned their own cars and homes, who could dress and act as they chose, who controlled their own destinies. Maybe everyone felt trapped in some way.
She wondered if the man outside the music building had felt trapped. Maybe underneath he was lonely, and shy, and the only way he could think of to reach out to someone for comfort was to drink enough that his inhibitions (and his manners) fell away.
Terry really shouldn't have treated him like that.
She only wanted to protect me, an inner voice insisted.
It didn't really matter. She had duties to fulfill. She had to carry them out, or be trapped forever trying. There was no escaping them.
Shaye noticed a dark-haired figure making her way to the front of the crowd, as a bus approached. Her hand made its way up to touch the cross at her throat.
No, there was no escaping.
She wormed her way past person after person, mumuring desperate "Excuse me"s as she went. Her hand flew out to catch the other girl's sleeve. "Terry."
Terry turned, and others took advantage of the moment of distraction to swarm onto the bus. "Get on first," she said shortly. They climbed aboard the bus, both forced to stand against each other, holding onto poles overhead, as others pressed about them. The bus jolted into motion. "You never wrote," Terry said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't get to it yesterday, and then I thought I'd see you today so it didn't matter." You would have found me anyway. "Are you still free for lunch?"
Terry's face was blank. "Can't you just tell me what this is about?"
She sighed. "All right, then."
The bus thumped into a rut. Shaye staggered but managed not to flatten herself against Terry. "You know," the short-haired woman said softly, "you can avoid a lot of that if you brace your feet right."
Shaye experimentally placed her feet in a rough approximation of ballet third position. "So, after this class period? In the North Cafe?"
Terry nodded stiffly.
I'm sorry, Shaye thought. I can't start it now. Let it wait, even just another hour.
The bus reached their stop.
Terry was deeply and profoundly convinced of one thing: Waiting sucked.
She had arrived at the room for her seminar only to find a sheet of paper taped to the door: class was canceled. Having nothing better to do until her scheduled lunch with Shaye, she had retreated to the sanctuary of a computer lab. Funny, that she could pass so many hours happily staring into the screen, not even noticing the time pass, but being here only to wait for something else made her jumpy, made the hands of the clock she kept glancing at creep at a snail's pace.
Terry hated being nervous. *Weak*. And she knew there was no reason to be. It was perfectly obvious what Shaye wanted to do: strap her down and preach the Word of God at her. Terry had never had it happen to her yet, but she'd heard so many stories, of door-to-door evangelists, of
raving fundies who would spit on a girl and call her a slut for piercing her ears, then proceed to read speeches of how real women should be submissive in all things, of people who would sincerely insist that everyone who was not a member of their particular congregation was going
to hell. She'd been expecting this, ever since seeing Shaye's reaction in the lab that night they met.
Terry had nothing against religion. Most religions sounded like fairly good ideas on paper, and there were those kind and wonderful people who actually lived by those ideas. And then there were those for whom religion was just another excuse to hate. Or not even to hate, but
to feel superior. She had seen some of the incredibly self-righteous and condescending rhetoric condemning homosexuals for "falling into the control of the devil".
She wondered if Shaye suspected.
Of course, Terry let herself dream, it was always possible that the freshman really wasn't a religious nutcase, and was attracted to her, and had scheduled this lunch to confess. It could happen.
She checked the clock. Damn. Well, there was no use in just sitting here and fretting about it.
Time enough to look for information on the other person on her mind.
Working for the computer science department gave her certain access privileges, but not many, not in the job she currently held. If she were interested in something other than homework records, she was limited to the same tools as any other knowledgeable student. Which wasn't necessarily so limiting, since most people put their personal information out in the open for anyone to look at.
She started with his homepage, hardly a secret if you knew someone's login. Black background, white text, picture loading... hrm. Alan Talvi was slim and pale with dark hair and light eyes. He wore round wire-rim glasses and a crooked smile that wasn't entirely friendly. Attractive in an intelligent way. If she were interested in a boyfriend, he might be her type. But that wasn't what this was about. She kept looking.
Silently she approved of the layout of his page, if not his color scheme. No frames, no midis, no distracting animations in continuous loops. No graphics besides his photograph and a few quiet buttons next to links. Of course, that could simply mean he didn't know enough about html
to do anything besides change his color settings. Black was so terribly typical. At least the text was white and not vampire-freak-blood-red.
Content: He had geekcode, which told her that he looked down on just about everyone, loved to play DOOM, and had supposedly had sex, along with the r% indicating an unhappy breakup. He had links to net versions of the old Anarchist Cookbook, a Suicide FAQ, a Pyrotechnics FAQ, a ROM archive, an alt.tasteless archive, an "abandonware" collection... well, if she were looking for the profile of an antisocial hacker, she'd found it. But there were no links on that front page
leading to anything else owned by him; they were all to other sites. She switched out of the browser to scan over his directories.
<ls -aF ~ajt> Standard university directory setup, plus a directory marked cps, assumably for keeping programs in. Symbolic links to some useful features that weren't automatically aliased in student accounts - he would have had to set those up himself. Terry tried to check the contents of the cps directory and got a "permission denied", another thing he obviously knew how to do. She moved on to the directory she knew wasn't protected, public_html. Aha! There was an art
subdirectory that the webpage hadn't indicated.
She called up the directory on her web browser. The pictures were labeled only by number, no title. Terry clicked on the first. It was an out-of-focus woman's face layered with a... computer keyboard in negative image? Or were those knitting needles over some sort of gridwork? Waves
or rocks in the background? The woman's face was washed-out-white except for the garish red lipstick and heavy black eyeshadow. Interesting and obviously computer-manipulated. The next was more an interesting mix of blue and black than any sort of photograph, although it hinted at shapes here and there. The directory went on that way, full of dark and confusing imagery, except for one beautifully intricate pencil sketch of a Japanese water garden. If he had drawn that, he had talent.
Terry rocked back in her seat. He did seem like the "type" that might have stolen programs or tried to break into someone's system. He had the knowledge and the attitude... and a certain sensitivity that he kept hidden. On a sudden impulse, she sent him an email. "Watch your back. Keep your nose clean." There. Hopefully, if he had been causing trouble, that would warn him off, and prevent her from having to catch him in the act. Because if she ever found real proof that someone was
hacking, she would have no choice but to turn em in.
And she really didn't want to do that.
Terry looked up at the clock again. Almost time for class to get out, if she were in class. Good enough. Now to get to lunch and face the music.
The North Cafe was not the most popular eating spot on campus. It was fairly small and still never more than half-full, which made it easy for Terry to tell that the blonde freshman hadn't arrived yet. She seated herself at one of the small wooden tables and stared distractedly at her hands, not even noticing the ponytailed waiter who came up beside her.
"Can I get you something?"
"Huh?" She fumbled for the menu on the table. "Um, a bacon cheeseburger... some cheese fries, and a Dr. Pepper."
"Sure thing," he winked, and moved on.
Terry sighed, accepting the drink when it came, and stared blankly ahead. Then she blinked, suddenly recognizing the couple at the next table. Shannon and Alex were just receiving their orders, but their eyes were only for each other.
The darker girl raised a glass of champagne-colored liquid - ginger ale, probably, the cafe didn't serve alcohol - to her partner. "It should have been Paris, for you," she said, the words barely audible at Terry's distance. "Or a trail ride into the sunset."
Alex reached forward to take hold of her unoccupied hand. "None of that means as much to me as you do. You know that." Charming crooked smile. "Unless you have regrets?"
Shannon shook her head. "I miss what we left behind. But any sacrifices we make are for the greater good." She raised their clasped hands, met Alex's palm to palm, wove their fingers together, and smiled. "I would rather be with you than any other place in the world."
"No cost matters."
Terry stared down at her Dr. Pepper, her hand sliding in the condensation on the sides of the glass. She hadn't meant to spy on their relationship. But, oh, what would it be like to have a love like that?
She sipped her drink, vaguely wishing she'd asked for something with a little less caffeine. It wasn't like her nerves needed the boost.
Shaye arrived at the same time as her food. The little blonde wrinkled her nose at the mounds of potato slathered with bright melted cheese. "How can you eat that?" she asked, sliding into the opposite chair, bag beside her.
Terry brushed the lettuce and tomato away from her thick, meaty sandwich. "It tastes good," she said, and sank her teeth in.
"But it's so bad for you!"
"Great, now you're a health nut too?" Terry mumbled.
Shaye's eyes narrowed. "Too?"
The waiter interceded, flipping his ponytail back over his shoulder. "What can I get you, miss?"
"Bean sprout sandwich and milk."
He nodded and flounced off. Terry eyed her warily. "You've got to be kidding. You enjoy that stuff?"
"The purpose of food," she said primly, "is to provide nutrition. Not to be enjoyable."
Great, Terry thought, here we go with the pleasure-is-sin lectures. Although this was the first she'd heard of fundie nutritionalists. "I'd rather eat what I like. We're all gonna die anyway."
"That's part of what we're here to talk about." Her voice was serious.
Terry sighed. "Go on," she said, and took another bite.
"Ever since we met," Shaye said. Deep breath. "Ever since our paths crossed, I knew it was no accident. We have been brought together for a purpose. I tried to ignore it, but it won't go away. I knew what I had to do."
Terry forced herself to swallow the bite without choking. "What are you saying?"
"Do you believe in God?"
"Uh.. sure," she said. Well, I don't disbelieve anyway, she added to herself.
"Are you religious?"
"Um," she stalled. "You know, sex and religion are the topics they tell you not to bring up in polite conversation."
"Because they tend to start fights. Look, I don't want to get into an argument about this."
"My feelings won't be hurt. Answer the question."
Terry sighed. "I think my family was Catholic at some point in time, but they weren't practicing anything by the time I came around. So there were mentions of God and Jesus and prayers in my background but I was never really a part of a Christian religion, no."
"A Christian religion? Were you part of something *else*?"
"And what if I were?"
"Other religions are wrong," Shaye frowned.
"See, this is why I didn't want to get into it." Terry searched for a way to smooth over the topic without either lying or upsetting her friend... for they were friends, after all. "I have attended services for some other religions that interest me. I don't really *believe* in them, though."
"But you believe in God?"
Shaye smiled, her face soft and glowing. "Don't you see? God has brought me to you to show you the way."
Over the blonde's shoulder, Terry could see Shannon producing a small dark velvety box, setting it on her hand, opening the lid, offering it across the table to her partner. "God personally came down and told you to save my soul."
"God has required me to reach out to you. It is my mission. He has brought us together so that I may do this."
Terry watched as Alex accepted the jewelry box, drew from it a sparkling chain and pendant. "How do you know what God wants?"
"God's purpose has always been for us, His children, to bring others to the knowledge of His love, to save them from the temptations of darkness and false gods. Especially now, when the End Times may be approaching."
Alex's hands were behind her neck, working the clasp, and they remained. With a rippling laugh that Terry could only just hear, Shannon walked around behind her to assist. "End times?"
"The millenium. Maybe."
"So you're not sure? God hasn't told you?"
"God moves in mysterious ways. We are only human, we can't understand everything."
Shannon's hands lingered on Alex's shoulders, squeezing, massaging. Terry's back twinged, wishing hands could rub it as well. "But God told you that you had to save me specifically?"
"He has presented me with this task, yes. I tried to ignore it, but He would cause you to appear again, even in my thoughts and dreams, until I accepted my mission."
"But did these dreams say what that mission was? How do you know you're not supposed to learn something from *me*?"
Shaye took a neat bite of her sandwich, washing it down. "You yourself said that you are troubled and adrift religiously. You need the love of God. You need the acceptance of the church."
"Your church would never accept me."
"God accepts anyone who comes to Him, wanting His love."
"I've been involved with pagans. Your church would burn me at the stake."
"But you don't really believe in them." She was unruffled. "You can be saved from their evil witchcraft."
"I'm gay. People like you don't accept people like me." The words fell out before Terry even knew she was thinking them. Shit. Had she really said that? She had just wanted to convince Shaye not to try and drag her off to bible studies, not be stuck defending her own religious and sexual preferences. She grabbed for more food before she could say something else stupid.
It took the blonde a moment to prepare a response. "You make a lot of judgements about a religion you say you've never been a part of," she said quietly.
"So you're telling me that your church *does* accept gays?" Terry knew it wasn't true, not the way Shaye had reacted to Alex and Shannon way back when.
"Homosexuality is not evil, just... misguided. It's a mistake. God will forgive you, if you ask Him to."
"Who says it's a mistake?"
"And you believe everything in that book? That was written by humans and translated by humans who can't understand everything?"
"This is not a debate! This is about *faith*. You have to believe. Questioning God is a sign of vanity."
"Then I'm vain," Terry said. "What about all that junk about women having to be submissive to their husbands all the time and let them beat them and order them around? Do you believe that's right?"
Shaye flinched ever so slightly. "That's not what it says," she defended. She reached into the bag by her chair and pulled out an embroidered case, unzipping it to reveal a bible inside. She opened the
book to one of many marks. "A wife is to be loved and cherished. See, it says here, a capable wife is 'far more precious than jewels'." She flipped a chunk of pages over, landing at another mark somewhere in the New Testament. "People always only quote half of this. 'Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.' A husband is supposed to love a wife enough to *die* for her like Christ did. If he mistreats her, he's not a true husband."
"You carry a bible around with you all the time?"
"Why not? It's my mission to reach out to people wherever I go."
"If God forgives all sins, why do you have to go around trying to save people?"
"God forgives everyone who asks for His forgiveness." She flipped to yet another bookmark. "Those who don't listen to His words will be destroyed, for they have built their houses on sand. You have to believe in Him. You have to join us now, because it may soon be too late."
Terry sighed. How do I avoid saying 'You're crazy?', she wondered? "So everyone who's not a part of your church will be destroyed? That's a awful lot of people."
"I..." she looked down. "God has His reasons."
"You don't believe it either," Terry challenged. "Deep down you can't really believe that your loving and forgiving God would do such a thing."
"It's not my place to judge God."
"You don't believe."
"I believe! I have to believe. God makes me believe."
"You don't believe a word of it, but it's easier for you to wear the dresses and carry the bibles and go along with it than say so."
"I have no choice!" Shaye blurted. "God has sent me to you to show you the way, and I believe in God!"
"How do you know your God didn't send you to me to learn *my* way?"
"Stop it! Just stop it!" Shaye zipped up her bible case and slipped it back into her bag. "You don't want to listen to me? Fine. Go to hell." She tossed a crumpled ten onto the table, which more than paid for her food, and was gone before Terry could think of a thing to say in response.
Terry stared at the melted ice in her glass. Shaye? Angry? That wasn't what she'd wanted... but she *had* seen that flicker of doubt, hadn't she? Was it wrong to press? Was it wrong to try and upset her simple, comforting faith?
And she admitted to herself that sometimes, she was jealous of faith. Jealous of people who could relax and *believe* in something, some cause, despite all odds and logic. Despite science.
Was that it? Was their growing friendship destroyed in that moment? And Shaye's words echoed in her mind, "even in my thoughts and dreams..."
She watched as Alex and Shannon finished their meal and left, arm in arm. And she waited, alone, for the check to come.
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